‘I need to make this love story’: documenting the radical dementia care of a pioneering reporter | Film

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At the beginning of the Chilean documentary The Everlasting Reminiscence, a girl asks her husband, who has Alzheimer’s, if he likes his life. He beams again at her. “I like life.” The couple might be immediately recognisable to audiences in Chile. He’s Augusto Góngora, a journalist who was a part of an underground tv information service in the course of the Pinochet dictatorship. Out on the streets he filmed the truth of life underneath army rule – at enormous private danger. The group’s bulletins, recorded on VHS tapes, had been handed from home to accommodate throughout the nation. When Chile returned to democracy, Góngora turned an influential determine on public tv. His companion of 25 years, Paulina Urrutia, is a well-known stage and display actor. In 2014, aged 62, Góngora was identified with Alzheimer’s. The Everlasting Reminiscence paperwork the pair’s ultimate years collectively, as Urrutia turns into his full-time carer.

Surprisingly, it’s a young and finally joyful portrait of a pair nonetheless head over heels in love. The movie’s director, Maite Alberdi, nods, smiling. “Sure. It’s a narrative that’s tragic on paper however not in actuality. Within the years I shot with them, I by no means left feeling unhappy.”

Alberdi is a documentary-maker. She met the couple in 2018, whereas giving a lecture to movie college students at a college the place Urrutia was instructing theatre. A couple of months earlier Góngora had gone public together with his Alzheimer’s prognosis in {a magazine} interview. “It was very courageous as a result of he was the director of the general public [television] channel. He stop and gave the interview, telling the entire nation.”

That day on the college, what struck Alberdi was that Urrutia had introduced Góngora to work along with her – he’d change into a part of her routine, accepted and welcomed by her colleagues, who chipped in caring for him. “He was completely satisfied, and she or he was completely satisfied. They had been being a pair, very regular.” There’s a scene within the movie displaying this: Urrutia rehearsing a play with Góngora by her facet on stage, completely satisfied and smiling. The opposite actors are relaxed with the setup: one stops to kiss Góngora goodbye on the cheek as he leaves; one other squats down for a chat.

Maite Alberdi talks to Chris Auer at the SCAD Savannah film festival
Maite Alberdi talks to Chris Auer on the SCAD Savannah movie pageant. {Photograph}: Cindy Ord/Getty Photos for SCAD

In her earlier documentaries, Alberdi has appeared on the lives of individuals shut out by society. Her Oscar-nominated movie The Mole Agent confirmed aged individuals alone in a care dwelling of their ultimate years. Did seeing Góngora and Urrutia collectively really feel like the alternative of that? “Sure. Utterly. I’ve shot individuals with dementia earlier than. I at all times noticed them remoted from society. This was the primary instance of somebody attempting to be in society. It was unbelievable and really particular. I used to be like: I must make this love story.”

Góngora immediately agreed to be filmed. He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed by his sickness. He additionally felt that he owed it to individuals to share his expertise. “He informed Urrutia: ‘I’ve filmed so many individuals in my life. Throughout the dictatorship individuals opened their doorways to point out me their fragility and ache. So why am I not going to open my doorways to point out my fragility?’” In previous clips of his information broadcasts, his compassion and humour as a journalist virtually glows on display.

Urrutia was much less eager, nonetheless, on the thought of a movie. “And I fully agreed along with her,” says Alberdi. As a distinguished girl in Chile, Urrutia felt weak to criticism. In 2006, she had been plucked from non-political life to change into the nation’s first tradition minister. It took its toll. “When she was a minister, you’d see the interviews on tv. It was like: Why don’t you’ve youngsters? Why are you prioritising that?” Alberdi pauses, outraged. “Are you actually asking that query to a minister? How dare you!”

Collectively the couple made the choice to seem within the movie. Alberdi’s plan was to point out how they lived – “their social life, going to events” – not hiding away Góngora’s sickness. Alberdi has a younger son, and says she discovered from Urrutia how you can be extra upfront about her caring duties. “Being a mum, earlier than I met her, I used to be at all times hiding my home issues. ‘I can handle!’” Now she takes a leaf out of Urrutia’s e book: “I say: ‘I’m with my son, nevertheless it’s OK. I’ll carry him.’”

Then, two years into filming, Covid hit. Santiago’s strict lockdowns meant Góngora had no guests for a 12 months and a half: “It was too dangerous.” Throughout that point Urrutia took over digital camera duties, giving the movie a few of its most tender and upsetting moments – late at night time, Góngora wandering in the dead of night, fretting, asking for his grownup kids (from a earlier relationship). “It was a lesson in cinema,” admits Alberdi. “My entire profession I used to be so involved concerning the excellent shot, the proper picture. This isn’t that, nevertheless it’s so profound and intimate. I’ll by no means have that intimacy at 2am, with individuals alone in the course of the night time.”

‘It’s a story that is tragic on paper but I never left feeling sad’ … The Eternal Memory.
‘It’s a narrative that’s tragic on paper however I by no means left feeling unhappy’ … The Everlasting Reminiscence.

The lockdown was robust on the couple: Urrutia caring for her husband alone, and Góngora disadvantaged of firm. “You’ll be able to see it within the movie. Earlier than he was using a motorbike after which he can nearly not stroll,” says Alberdi. “He misplaced his language after the pandemic.” His physician informed the household that he deteriorated in a single month in the course of the pandemic as a lot as had beforehand taken a 12 months – “as a result of he didn’t see individuals.”

Alberdi deliberate to movie Góngora till he died. As an alternative, there was a second – it’s within the movie, after lockdown – when she determined to modify the digital camera off. Góngora turns to his spouse and says: “I’m not myself any extra.” Behind the digital camera, it was the primary time Alberdi felt uncomfortable. “The day earlier than he stated: ‘I don’t need to reside any extra.’”

She pauses. “It was very clear for me that if he doesn’t need to reside, then after all he doesn’t need to shoot. In order that was my final day.” Góngora died in Might aged 71, at dwelling, cared for to the top by Urrutia. A couple of months earlier The Everlasting Reminiscence premiered at Sundance, successful the grand jury prize for world documentary.

I ask Alberdi what Urrutia thinks of the movie, after her preliminary hesitance? “She could be very grateful now. She stated that the movie is a present for her.” In what approach? “She by no means believed that it was going to be so, so … Augusto. She thought it was going to be extra Alzheimer’s. However she feels it’s the movie that Augusto would have product of himself. She feels him alive.”

After caring full-time for her husband within the later levels of his sickness, Urrutia is travelling world wide to movie festivals. “She stated: ‘I got here again to society with him taking my hand with the movie.’ It’s how she needs to recollect him.”

“She stated too that it’s good to share the mourning. That when somebody you like passes away, no one needs to talk to you about it. However she needed to talk and the movie is the very best excuse to talk.”

The Everlasting Reminiscence is in cinemas now.

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